Church Slavonic

Church Slavonic (starotserkovnoslovianska mova). The oldest literary language of the Slavs, which originated in 863 when the Moravian prince Rastislav requested that the Byzantine emperor Michael III send missionaries to Moravia to educate the local clergy. The choice fell on the brothers Constantine (see Saint Cyril) and Methodius (see Saint Methodius), who were born in Thessaloniki and knew the Slavic language in its local Macedonian variant. As part of his missionary work Cyril created an alphabet (later named the Glagolitic alphabet) and, probably after his arrival in Moravia, began to translate liturgical texts. The basis of the literary language developed by Cyril in the course of his work as a translator was the Macedonian dialect, with which he was most familiar. However, in his attempts to make the language intelligible to the local populace, Cyril incorporated Moravian elements into it. After Cyril's death in 869, his work was continued by Methodius. After the latter's death in 885, the students and followers of the holy brothers were expelled from Moravia, and many of them settled in Macedonia and Bulgaria. In Macedonia Saint Clement (d 916) and Saint Naum (d 910) cultivated the Church Slavonic language. Since the Moravian elements were unnecessary in this new environment, the majority of them were removed, and a Macedonian recension of Church Slavonic came to replace the Moravian version. In Bulgaria, where a powerful Byzantine influence prevailed, the Glagolitic writing system and the Moravian elements in the language were especially unwelcome. During the reign of Simeon, about 893, a new alphabet—the Cyrillic alphabet—was developed; it was based on the Greek alphabet but incorporated elements of the Glagolitic. The language was supplemented by Bulgarian elements. Thus arose the third, Bulgarian recension of Church Slavonic. There existed also Serbian, Croatian, and, for a short time, Czech recensions.

Few original Church Slavonic texts have been preserved. Apart from some small fragments, the Moravian recension is represented by the so-called Kyiv Fragments; the Macedonian recension by the Zographensis, Assemanius, and Marianus gospels (the latter containing elements of the Serbian redaction), the Euchologium of Sinai, and the Clozianus collection of sermons; the Bulgarian recension by Sava's Book (Gospel), the Suprasliensis collection of the lives of saints and others, and the Enina Book of Acts and Epistles. All of these texts date from the 11th century, except the Kyiv Fragments, which were possibly written near the end of the 10th century (unless they are later forgeries, as suggested by J. Hamm). After the 11th century Church Slavonic evolved differently in the various Slavic countries; these variants are not considered to belong to Old Church Slavonic.

Church Slavonic was never a spoken language. It transcended tribal and national barriers and was intended for liturgical and related genres. With the Christianization of Ukraine, Church Slavonic was adopted as the church and literary language. Texts representative of each of the original recensions were known and copied in Ukraine (eg, the Moravian [or Czech] is represented in the Besidy [Discourses] on the Gospel of Gregory the Great, the Serbian by the Gospel of Rheims), but it was ultimately the Bulgarian recension that gained acceptance (as it did in Belarus and Russia as well). Initially these texts were simply copied verbatim, but gradually they were altered by a series of local features. The earliest and most significant of these were: (1) the third-person endings of verbs in (in Church Slavonic, -tъ); (2) the ending of the instrumental singular of masculine and neuter nouns, -ъмь and ьмь (Church Slavonic, -oмь and -eмь); (3) the avoidance of nasal vowels; (4) the replacement of žd (from the Common Slavic *dj) by ž. Other local features were less strictly adhered to; hence, some of the parallel variants came to acquire stylistic overtones. Such local features included spellings of the type vьrхъ (verx [top]; Church Slavonic, vrьхъ); pleophony; the use of č instead of št (from the Common Slavic *tj); the use of ě rather than the Church Slavonic nasal e in the genitive singular endings of soft-declension feminine nouns (also in the nominative/accusative plural of feminine nouns of the soft declension and the accusative plural of masculine nouns of the soft declension: zeml’ě [earth], kon’ě [horse]; Church Slavonic, zeml’ę, kon’ę); disyllabic endings in the adjectival declension instead of the Church Slavonic trisyllabic endings (novogo [new]; Church Slavonic, novaego); and peculiarities of syntax and vocabulary. Thus, Church Slavonic, based on the Bulgarian recension in the process of its partial adaptation, became the oldest literary language of Ukraine (as well as, with certain modifications, the literary language of all Kyivan Rus’) and was also used in original works written in Ukraine, such as ‘Slovo o zakoni i blahodati’ (Sermon on the Law and Grace) by Metropolitan Ilarion.

(On the further development of Church Slavonic in Ukraine, see Standard Ukrainian.)

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George Yurii Shevelov

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